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Public editor: The art of the flu vaccine

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

"You did it again!" a reader wrote this week. "What's with the second photo of a crying baby in a story about flu vaccines in less than a week? How about a photo of a stoic adult, or of a child getting the vaccine via nasal spray? No wonder parents can be hesitant."

The photo (seen above) was used to illustrate an article explaining that medical professionals are being urged to take the time to explain the scientific facts beyond the value of vaccines and the dangers of not inoculating children. The photo from Oct. 21 showed a crying infant, while the earlier one used Oct. 17 showed a wailing toddler.

News photos are used for a variety of reasons. They are real, fair and accurate depictions of news events. They are used to not only show the event, but also to draw the reader's eye to the article. And the truth is a cute baby is more appealing than a stoic adult as the reader above suggests.

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News photos must be accurate. The Globe's Code of Ethics says that news photographers "are journalists who use cameras to report on events and stories in the news. Their job is to inform and engage with readers honestly, accurate and in a clear and compelling manner."

That photo of the unhappy baby was both real and representative of what happens when babies are poked with any needle. Medical research suggests you can distract a baby with sugar water or breastfeeding to avoid the tears, but otherwise, they usually cry.

But the question remains from the reader, should other photos be shown as well to illustrate the story?

I spoke with Dr. Scott Halperin, who is Professor of Pediatrics and Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Dalhousie University.

Most infants do cry, but not for long, he said. But he wondered, how do you show a picture of someone happy because the vaccine worked and they didn't get the disease? "It's like skiing," he said. "People fall when they ski, but that's not very often and the experience is about more than that."

Asked whether the media photos of crying babies could make someone avoid the flu shot, he said there is no evidence to show that, but a number of people are fearful of any needle and perhaps the repeated photos could reinforce that fear for some.

It's worth noting that in coverage last year of flu shots, photos of adults were used and while they weren't crying, a few were grimacing. So while there were two crying babies in a row, in fact The Globe has taken care to show a range of responses to the flu shot.

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If you would like to comment on The Globe's journalism, feel free to email me at publiceditor@globeandmail.com

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About the Author
Public Editor

Sylvia Stead has been a reporter and editor at the Globe since 1975, after graduating from the University of Western Ontario in Journalism with a minor in Political Science. She won the Board of Governors Award there in 1974. As a reporter, Sylvia covered courts, education and Queen's Park. More

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